I have for some time meditated on Scott Aniol’s division of worship into three categories: private worship, lifestyle worship, and congregational worship (Worship in Song, p 149). Because of my baptistic alliterating tic, I’ll refer to these three as private worship, perpetual worship and public worship.
Private worship is the act of meeting God alone to pray (Mat 6:6, Mk 1:35, Ps 5:3), meditate on Scripture (Ps 63:6), and sing (Ps 13:6).
Perpetual worship is the consecration of the entire life of a believer as an offering to God (Rom 12:1-2), so that all that one does is done in love (1 Co 16:14), done in the name of the Lord and for His sake (Col 3:17, 23), and done to the glory of God (1 Co 10:31). It is the life of abiding in Christ, and growing into His image.
Public worship is when the church of God gathers at an appointed time in the name of the Lord Jesus to follow God’s New Testament prescriptions for worship (Heb 10:25, 1 Cor 14:23).
I suggest we suffer from two errors regarding this triad of worship. One is the failure to give each of these its right place relative to the others. An interesting exercise is to ask a man which of these three he believes to be primary. His answer will probably reveal much of his philosophy of the Christian life, as well as his views on sanctification. The man who views private worship as primary is probably fairly pietistic in his tradition, believing that a sincere and seeking heart on ‘praying ground’ will solve most of his problems, and equip him for perpetual and public worship. (A good response to an over-emphasis on the ‘quiet time’ can be found here.) The man who sees perpetual worship as primary tends to denigrate the importance of public worship, seeing forms as artificial or even superficial. (Another good response to that here). He will probably have a practical bent to his mind, and be impatient with what he perceives as the mysticism of those who venerate the ‘quiet time’. He is usually convinced that his worship is practised in ‘real life’, and since it occupies the greatest percentage of a man’s time, it must be the most important. The man who sees public worship as primary may be from a liturgical background or not, but he may think too little of the worship that takes place when disciples meet throughout the week to speak the Word in informal ways.
The second error is a failure to keep these three distinct. Some Christians have no place for private prayer because they “pray all the time, even in the car”. Some Christians see no point in assembling for church because they have such splendid times with God alone, and with the DVD player. Some Christians consider their church attendance as having clocked in at the worship factory, and duly clocked out an hour later, so rarely meet with God alone, or give Him a thought during the week. (A good article on the failure of Emergents to recognise the difference between perpetual worship and public worship is found here.) Such Christians see too much similarity between these to see the differences between them. For them, to practise one is to practise them all. The truth is, each of these three forms of worship is distinct from the others and yet overlaps and feeds into the others.
Public worship is fed by private worship in that the piety and zeal of individuals contributes to the whole. It is fed by perpetual worship in that the experiences of God by His people throughout the week are reported in testimony and reflected in hymnody and practical preaching. As Christians progress in sanctification during the week, they are better able to hallow His name on Sunday.
Perpetual worship is fed by public worship through its exhortation to consecration and change in the preaching, through accountability and edification from the gathered body, through an exhortation to glorify God in all things. It is fed by private worship in that such private consecration sets the tone for one’s lifestyle (particularly if the consecration occurs early in the day), soul nourishment takes place, and prayers prayed in private are answered in the milieu of life.
Private worship is fed by public worship as it teaches an ordinate approach to God, ordinate affections towards God, the responsible way of interpreting Scripture, and knowledge of hymnody the fuels the religious imagination for such times of devotion. It is fed by perpetual worship with its awareness of answered prayer, its observations of providence, and its recognition of God’s design and hand in all things.
If any of these three fails or weakens, the other two suffer. Each must be nourished, and all must be nourished simultaneously.
Nevertheless, I would suggest that corporate worship, when used rightly, is the first among equals of these three. If corporate worship is ordinate and received properly, a Christian learns volumes for his own devotion and practical consecration in life. In so many ways, worship is learnt by example, and then transferred to the private and lifestyle realm. Few are the Christians who come to a right love for God in private or in the hustle of life. You might admire those mystics, monks and ascetics, but recognise you will probably not be one. If a man misreads the Scriptures, misreading them more often in private will not help him. If a man misunderstands prayer, praying wrongly as he drives will not improve it. Corporate worship serves as the true north to reset the compass of our hearts with. There we learn again who it is with whom we have to do. The dross picked up in private or perpetual worship is purged, and we leave to attempt again to worship Him fittingly in the rest of life.
So pray for your spiritual leaders. Great and strict will be their judgement for how they taught you to worship God alone and in your lifestyle by their example and practice in public worship.